Virtual reality is a fascinating technology that has slowly but surely gained popularity in the last two years. It’s not as ubiquitous as some may have believed it would be by now, but it’s still come a long way. And one interesting thing about VR, for those of us who are interested in cars, is that auto experiences often tend to work best in the format. Locomotion is a very tricky concept, at least on foot, in VR. But when you’re in a simulation that mimics looking out of a car windshield, it’s natural for your surroundings to move while you sit still.
Some of the most impressive games that have come out on top-of-the-line virtual reality headsets have had racing themes. Celebrated VR racing titles include Asset Corsa, Project Cars 2, DriveClub VR, and others, for anyone who might have an interest in car-related gaming. And while these games largely focus on high-speed, adrenaline-fueled racing situations, there is a certain realistic quality to them. When playing these games, it almost really does feel like you’re driving a car – and the truth is, this idea is likely to be explored even more in the coming year or two of VR development.
For one thing, it may be the case that even simpler video games might be effectively adapted to VR if they deal with racing. For instance, one game category that’s beginning to creep into virtual reality is the casino category. Gonzo’s Quest, a very popular online slot reel, has moved into VR, albeit a little bit awkwardly. But another game hosted on the same sites – Multiplayer Mayhem – might ultimately be a more effective adaptation. This game uses a street racing theme, and could be reimagined not unlike a cheaper, simpler version of some of the same games mentioned above. It’s likely a matter of time.
Finally, we could also see further expansion of auto experiences in VR given that there appears to be a mass emergence of VR arcades on the way. Just as people used to visit the arcade to play ordinary video games – and sometimes even racing simulators – they’ll now be doing so to play around in VR. It’s a virtual certainty that the game selections at these VR arcades will include advanced racing experiences, likely even in contraptions that mimic the physical feel of a car turning and swerving.
You can likely begin to see how all of this factors into the idea of new and improved test driving. As evidenced by the games and possibilities just outlined, racing is not just an option in virtual reality – it might be the most natural and impressive application of the technology we’ve yet seen, at least in terms of gaming and consumer activity. And because racing is ahead of the game, we can imagine driving simulators used for more ordinary purposes – like test driving actual vehicles.
Already there are experiences that invite prospective buyers to log on rather than hop in for VR dealership test drives. This option involves simulations that can be downloaded on a mobile device, and which offer 360-degree viewing as if you’re sitting in the car. Naturally this leaves much to be desired in terms of experiencing the physical feel of a car, or learning what it’s like to drive it. But as an introductory experience, perhaps to narrow down options before an actual test drive, it’s certainly better than just browsing online.
And when we combine this sort of viewing experience with some of the more advanced VR already mentioned with regard to gaming, we may actually get close to a full simulation of what it’s like to test drive a given vehicle. It would be a fascinating development with huge ramifications for the auto industry.